Saturday, October 09, 2010

Tickets to Ride

If a random sample of Americans were asked to, off the top of their head, name the 10 most popular entertainers in the world, Paul McCartney would probably make some lists. But undoubtedly, The Beatles would have made the top of everyone's list in 1966. To suggest that McCartney is more popular today than his group was 44 years ago is absurd. But consider this: in 1966 the Beatles played a concert at Shea Stadium that had 15,000 empty seats. Later that year, in their last ever concert at San Francisco, they sold 25,000 a venue that seated over 42,000. Last summer, McCartney announced a two-night stand at Citi Field in New York, Shea's replacement. Tickets to both shows sold out in less than five minutes, leading to a third show, which also sold out. Of course, tickets are a little bit more pricier today--while admission topped out at $6.50 for the Beatles' last show, a McCartney ticket could run $250 today (or higher if you consider the secondary market).

Around the time of the Citi Field shows last year, McCartney appeared on David Letterman's show. Letterman's ratings went way up that night, as an estimated 4.4 million people tuned in. Of course, this is a bit of a drop from the 73 million who tuned in to see the future Sir Paul when he played Ed Sullivan in 1964.

What to make of all this? Perhaps it helps to get some further perspective. The first Super Bowl didn't sell out. When the Baltimore Orioles clinched the 1970 World Series, they didn't do it in front of a full house. In 1962, the Los Angeles Dodgers set a Major League Baseball attendance record by averaging over 33,000 fans a game. In 2010, 11 teams (including the Milwaukee Brewers, playing in baseball's smallest market), averaged more than 33,000 fans a game. And this despite ticket prices rising at far beyond the rate of inflation. So baseball must be increasing in popularity, right? Not so fast--on the flip side, the Nielson rating for the 1973 World Series was 30.7, with a share of 57. The rating for the 2008 World Series was 8.4, with a share of 14.

There are a couple of obvious factors at work influencing these trends. Television ratings for any one program are obviously going to erode when you exponentially multiple the number of channels that someone can watch. Concert attendance will rise when the target audience acquires more disposable income. But I also think there are some deeper cultural shifts that are responsible.

It's common to hear theories that blame television for the shortening of attention spans. But to take this observation to a whole new level, perhaps we can blame television for making itself seem passe. I once read that a TV sports executive ordered that camera shots showing empty seats at stadiums be curtailed. He reasoned that people watching a game with lots of empty seats would start asking themselves why they were watching. But on the flip side, seeing live events packaged on TV as "can't miss" experiences may leave some feeling that mere TV viewing is for the non-privileged. Under that theory, purchasing an event ticket is more than seeking one night's entertainment, but also buying inclusion into a special class.

But aside from the monetary investment that goes into buying a ticket, one is also investing time. Of course, leisure time can be spent either away from one's home, or in the comfort of one's own abode. I've got to think that in the relatively early days of television--for as long as those who could remember a time before television made the economic decisions in households--the ability to receive a night's entertainment without the logistical demands of travel seemed to be way too good to pass up. But for those who grew up staying home and watching television every night, the idea of going out had its own allure. And of course, it is this generation that still wants to go to concerts and hear songs with lyrics like "Baby you can drive my car."


Blogger Benjamin Fink said...

nice ethos ;) haha!!!

11:20 PM  
Blogger yangp7960 said...

I can sort of understand what you're getting at here.

From my thoughts, I do think that time has changed a lot. And a lot of things have changed drastically! One day it's this trend and the next day, it's a whole new set of rules.

It seems as though it's not in our power to do anything though. [ As it seems ]

So, do you think there should be some action taken? or is this just a train of thought?

12:55 AM  

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